Perhaps I shall not write my account of the Paleolithic at all, but make a film of it. A silent film at that, in which I shall show you first the great slumbering rocks of the Cambrian period, and move from those to the mountains of Wales...from Ordovician to Devonian, on the lush glowing Cotswolds, on to the white cliffs of Dover... An impressionistic, dreaming film, in which the folded rocks arise and flower and grow and become Salisbury Cathedral and York Minster...
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APAPenelope Lively Quotes. (n.d.). Jar of Quotes. Retrieved , from JarofQuotes.com Web site: https://www.jarofquotes.com/view.php?id=perhaps-i-shall-not-write-my-account-paleolithic-at-all-but-make-film-it-a-silent-film-at-that-in-which-i-shall-show-you-first-great-slumbering-penelope-lively
ChicagoPenelope Lively Quotes. Jar of Quotes, 2019. https://www.jarofquotes.com/view.php?id=perhaps-i-shall-not-write-my-account-paleolithic-at-all-but-make-film-it-a-silent-film-at-that-in-which-i-shall-show-you-first-great-slumbering-penelope-lively, accessed .
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I have a print - you can buy them at the Victoria and Albert Museum - of a photograph of the village street of Thetford, taken in 1868, in which William Smith is not. The street is empty. There is a grocer's shop and a blacksmith's and a stationary cart and a great spreading tree, but not a single human figure. In fact William Smith - or someone, or several people, dogs too, geese, a man on a horse - passed beneath the tree, went into the grocer's shop, loitered for a moment talking to a friend while the photograph was taken but he is invisible, all of them are invisible. The exposure of the photograph - sixty minutes - was so long that William Smith and everyone else passed through it and away leaving no trace. Not even so much of a mark as those primordial worms that passed through the Cambrian mud of northern Scotland and left the empty tube of their passage in the rock. I like that. I like that very much. A neat image for the relation of man to the physical world. Gone, passed through and away.
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The question is, shall it or shall it not be linear history. I've always thought a kaleidoscopic view might be an interesting heresey. Shake the tube and see what comes out. Chronology irritates me. There is no chronology inside my head. I am composed of myriad Claudias who spin and mix and part like sparks of sunlight on water. The pack of cards I carry around is forever shuffled and re-shuffled; there is no sequence, everything happens at once. The machines of the new technology, I understand, perform in much the same way: all knowledge is stored, to be summoned up at the flick of a key. They sound, in theory, more efficient. Some of my keys don't work; others demand pass-words, codes, random unlocking sequences. The collective past, curiously, provides these. It is public property, but it is also deeply private. We all look differently at it. My Victorians are not your Victorians. My seventeenth century is not yours. The voice of John Aubrey, of Darwin, of whoever you like, speaks in one tone to me, in another to you.
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Children are infinitely credulous. My Lisa was a dull child, but even so she came up with things that pleased and startled me. 'Are there dragons?' she asked. I said that there were not. 'Have there ever been?' I said all the evidence was to the contrary. 'But if there is a word dragon, ' she said, 'then once there must have been dragons.
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We open our mouths and out flow words whose ancestries we do not even know. We are walking lexicons. In a single sentence of idle chatter we preserve Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Norse; we carry a museum inside our heads, each day we commemorate people of whom we have never heard. More than that, we speak volumes - our language is the language of everything we have read. Shakespeare and the Authorised Version surface in supermarkets, on buses, chatter on radio and television. I find this miraculous. I never cease to wonder at it. That words are more durable than anything, that they blow with the wind, hibernate and reawaken, shelter parasitic on the most unlikely hosts, survive and survive and survive.
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But however minimal, however threadbare, it (collective memory) is ballast of a kind. We all need that seven-eighths of the iceberg, the ballast of the past, a general past, the place from which we came. That is why history should be taught in school. to all children, as much of it as possible. If you have no sense of the past, no access to historical narrative, you are afloat, untethered; you cannot see yourself as a part of the narrative, you cannot place yourself within a context. You will not have an understanding of time, and a respect for memory and its subtle victory over the remorselessness of time.
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The place didn't look the same but it felt the same; sensations clutched and transformed me. I stood outside some concrete and plate-glass tower-block, picked a handful of eucalyptus leaves from a branch, crushed them in my hand, smelt, and tears came to my eyes. Sixty-seven-year-old Claudia, on a pavement awash with packaged American matrons, crying not in grief but in wonder that nothing is ever lost, that everything can be retrieved, that a lifetime is not linear but instant. That, inside the head, everything happens at once.
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And in another year everything will be different yet again. It is always like that, and always will be; you are forever standing on the brink, in a place where you cannot see ahead; there is nothing of which to be certain except what lies behind. This should be terrifying, but somehow it is not.
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